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Old 05-22-2006, 04:30 PM   #1
Rajah
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Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Texas
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Brief (sorta) trip report for our UK trip

Apr 29, Day 1: Arrival and London

After an 8 hour plane flight, we arrived at London's Gatwick airport where we took the Gatwick Express train to the Victoria Station. Then it was a short 5 or 10 minute walk (even with having to check our directions) to the Rubens at the Palace, where we stayed. Checked in, then grabbed lunch at the Shakespeare Pub just down the street where I had Fish & Chips and my mom had the Pork & Leek Sausage & Mash with Onion Gravy (both excellent). After lunch, we grabbed tickets for the Hop on / Hop off bus tour of London, where we climbed up to the top deck of the double-decker bus for our overview of London. These tours are well, well, well worth the money and was the best introduction we could ever get to the city of London. The tour took a little over an hour, maybe 2 hours, and then we hopped off back where we started and returned to the hotel for a "nap", grabbing a cornish pasty along the way (the Traditional: beef, potato, onion, and carrot all wrapped in a flaky crust. Very yummy. And yes, it's Pasty, not Pastry. LOL!) Of course, our "nap" lasted until 12:30 AM and by then we were just awake enough to call home and check in (considering it would have been the middle of the night at home if we'd tried calling earlier) and take notes before we called it a night.



__Apr 30, Day 2: London___

Today we focused on the main thing my mom wanted to see in London. Well, not the only thing by a long shot, but something she's wanted to see all her life. That's the Changing of the Guard. Which was neat, but we would have been happier if we'd had a better view through the fence. Even arriving an hour+ early wasn't early enough. After that, we hopped the tube to go up to Kings Cross Station where we discovered accidentally that this was the train station used in Harry Potter!! Woot! Next stop was the British Library for their literary museum (ancient maps, the Magna Carta, stamps, Illuminated Manuscripts, texts from names like Leonardo, Newton, Galileo, Dickens, Lewis Carroll,a nd music from Mozart and Bach just to name a few). Excellent display. Lunch was in the Rocket Pub, not bad, just a couple of sandwiches though. Then we walked to the British Museum "just" to see the Rosetta Stone. Uh huh, yeah, sure. I don't know why I thought we'd be able to get in and out of *THE* British Museum seeing only one item. Several hours later, the museum was closing as was everything else we'd hoped to maybe see. So back to the Rubens for a nice dinner downstairs in "The Library" before rushing to Tower Hill (via the Tube) for our Ceremony of the Keys. Well, well, well worth the hassle of ordering tickets (free, but have to get in advance). This was the most amazing thing I think we saw in England. (Basically, it's locking up the Tower of London and handing the keys over to the night watch, done in an age-old ceremony in front of fewer than 20 people. Don't know their max, but that was all that showed up). After the ceremony (which took about 30 minutes), we walked around the Tower for some pictures at night, then took the Tube to Westminster so we could get pictures / see Big Ben at night before hopping back to the hotel since the outside crowd was getting just a little questionable for our comfort level (not surprising, since it was 1am).




___Monday, May 1, Day 3: London___

We woke up to the sound of horses coming from the Mews, and got to watch them taking some horses out for their exercise. Beautiful horses. After our late night the night before, we slept in until the last moment before checkout, then had the concierge keep our bags for the rest of the day. We rushed back to the Tower of London to actually *tour* it, but things didn't go too great. The Tower was crowded, and most people were rather pushy. And we, of course, were touchy ourselves after such a long night. Because of that, we skipped the guided tour, and hurried through the Crown Jewels (FANTASTIC) and the White Tower. On our rushed way out of the Tower, we did get to see a Changing of the Guard there around the Tower, so that was cool. We hurried to Westminster Tube Station for a London Walk on the Secrets of Westminster Abbey, but the meeting place was so crowded and disorganized that we decided we'd rather skip the tour and grab lunch instead. Lunch was at the Red Lion Pub just down the street (BBQ Chicken and a Beef & Ale pie, both great again). Then we saw Big Ben again and worked our way to Westminster Abbey where we worked our own way through the Abbey. An *amazing* building, and we got to hear the boys choir starting to practice for Evensong (but we were too tired to stay). We walked all along the Big Ben tower and Parliament Building (pictures don't come *close* to doing this place justice. It was amazing), and got lost trying to walk back to the hotel. So much for it being "just as fast this way as walking back to the Tube". But we did get to see the New Scotland Yard, who were highly amused when my mom requested permission to take a picture. Back to the Rubens to collect our bags and catch a cab to the next hotel, the Carlton Mitre at Hampton Court Palace. Originally we planned to take the train, but decided it was worth the cost (~ 50) for the convenience (and experience) of riding a London cab instead (and we got to "see" Harrods as we drove past). Checked in to our choice of a King Smoking room or twin non-smoking (the King room actually had no cigarette smoke at all, and the twin room was musty so we took the King). An early night tonight.




___Tues, May 2, Day 4: Hampton Court Palace___

Today, I needed to crash. My weeks of working overtime to be able to take the trip caught up with me, so my mom shopped next door while I took a nap until 11:30 or so. Then we went across the street (literally) to Hampton Court Palace. First stop was lunch in the tea room, very good food (beef stew and a liver pate). Then we picked up some free audio guides and joined up with the costumed "Welcome to Hampton Court" tour with a guide from the "Victorian" period. We rushed back to the courtyard just in time to catch the costumed tour of King Henry's Suites, which turned out not just to be a tour but a production *very*, *very* well done. That tour was on of my favorite parts of our England visit. Rest of the time was spent exploring the other tour areas using the free audio guide and getting pictures. I dropped my mom back at the tearoom near closing so I could run to do the maze (very cute) and get some pictures of the gardens. Dinner was at a nearby Thai restaurant, where we got corn cakes, Thai "pancakes" (more like vegi spring rolls), duck in coconut curry, egg noodles, and sizzling ostrich in a black pepper sauce (delish!). Then we called it a night.


___Wed, May 3, Day 5: Winchester, Stonehenge, and Salisbury___

Today was the first of a day and a half that our private guide would take us around. And let me say, he was *well* worth the money. So much was covered that it took me 2 hours to write the notes that night. LOL! In short, he took us to Winchester to see the Guild Hall, a statue of a Saxon king, the Cathedral (excellent), the Great Hall (with the King Arthur and the Round Table "Round Table", which was Victorian in date), and grabbed lunch. Then it was on to Stonehenge via a very cute town, then Woodhenge, then the Iron Age / Norman Fort Old Sarum, one of the White Horses (in the distance), some Iron Age Terraces (pointed out as we drove by), several dozen Barrows (again, as we drove by or while we were at Stonehenge), and finally rushing through to Salisbury and the Cathedral before he dropped us at our B&B for the night, the Bath Lodge. One of his drivers picked us up to take us to dinner in a nearby town at the George Inn, which was a *very* old (600 years or so) pub and inn with some really good food.

___Thurs, May 4, Day 6: Bath & Avebury___

Our guide picked us up again this morning to finish up our tour. This time, he took us on a driving tour around Bath, to the parts that the tour busses can't go, and to areas most tourists miss. Showed us quite a lot of history of the town and really introduced Georgian architecture to me (my mom was already familiar). Then he helped us get our rental car, then took us to the closest point he could get to the Roman Baths and dropped us off. He was expensive, but well worth his money for the time we had him. My mom and I caught lunch at the Cadbury restaurant (yes, as in the chocolate!) before wandering down Market Street and to the Baths. We did try the spa water (bleh -- treated, thankfully. LOL!) then took our tour of the Roman Baths, which I found *immensely* fascinating. Quite hot, though. (Should we say "duh? It's a spa?" LOL!) It took us quite a bit to get out of there, we enjoyed it so much, and then we spent a good while shopping. Finally decided we had to buy a new piece of luggage because already we'd filled up the bags we had. Oops. Finished up in Bath with dinner at Binks (the only negative review I'll give food-wise this trip), then caught a cab back out to our car before heading out of town. Now the adventure began -- driving in the UK! Actually it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. LOL! We'd intended to hit Castle Coombe in the Cotswolds and a few other things on our way up to our B&B, but got a late enough start that we ended up only hitting Avebury (though we did see another white horse and some iron terraces and another hill fort or mound and some obelisk monument as we drove around). Avebury was fantastic and worth as much of a visit as Stonehenge. Then it was the hunt for our B&B in Nether Westcote (which most people haven't heard of). For those somewhat familiar with the Cotswolds, it was near Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-On-The-Water. We had the cottage for the next 5 days or so, and it was a wonderful little place to stay.

___Fri, May 5, Day 7: Great Tew and Oxford___

Started the day out by driving through the adorable town of Great Tew. Very cute thatched cottages, a cute "Kitten Crossing" sign, and we got to watch the kids practicing their Maypole Dance at school. After that brief stop (very peaceful), we headed in to Oxford and the Park & Ride. I'd specifically picked this day as our Oxford day because so many things are closed on other days we could have visited. So what happened? The Queen visited Oxford today, so most things we wanted to visit were closed. D'oh!! Oh well, we had more to see than possible to see anyway. Grabbed lunch at the "Mitre Pub", which was a good steak pie and a horrible chicken salad. We did get to see Alice's Shop, of Alice in Wonderland fame. And we took the hop-on hop-off bus tour of Oxford again, again worth the price. We didn't get to go into any of the colleges we wanted to go in, but that'll just have to happen next time, right? It was still a full day. And since the colleges were closed, we decided to see the Oxford Story, which turned out to be Spaceship Earth in miniature telling the story of the city and University. Very well done, considering they didn't have Disney's budget. On our way out of town, I took a wrong turn on the road we wanted and the traffic heading back into town was horrid so we decided to do a little exploring down some side streets. As a result, we had one of the best dinners of the trip at the accidentally stumbled-upon "Swan Inn" in the little town of Islip. Got back to town with no trouble and decided we were energetic enough that we'd split our "rest day" into two "light days" instead of one busy day and one day of nothing.

___Sat, May 6, Day 8: Stow-on-the-Wold and Warwick Castle___

What did I say about being energetic? We almost slept through breakfast this morning, and still had to go back to the room for a nap afterwards. Oops. LOL! Oh well, tonight would be a late night anyway. We did make it to Stow-on-the-Wold for a late lunch in a tea room, though. And in time to watch the genuine Gypsy wagon drive by. We did some shopping there in town before heading to Warwick Castle just barely in time to get in the last entry. In fact, if we hadn't had the Great British Heritage Pass *and* reservations for the Kingmaker's Feast tonight, we wouldn't have gotten in. But we did get to have a brief look at Warwick Castle at least, and worked through the wonderful wedding party exhibit done by Madame Tussards (sp?). I hurried out to get into the shop before it closed, then my mom met me outside and we drove around to the vantage point where you can view the castle from the bridge. Then back to the castle for dinner! Dinner was the Kingmaker's Feast set in the 1400s, and I went in costume. We had a fantastic time and the dinner was a riot. We'd go again at the drop of a hat! It was nearly midnight by the time we got back to the cottage.

___Sun, May 7, Day 9: Stratford-Upon-Avon___

We slept through our alarm and breakfast this morning, so it was a good thing we'd stopped by the Tesco (grocery store) and had some Wheetabix on hand (man I wish we could find those chocolate chip Wheetabix here in the states!!). We did some laundry while taking it easy, then headed up to Stratford-Upon-Avon for the day. There we saw Anne Hathaway's Cottage and got lunch at the tea room (these were the main things my mom wanted to see), then did some shopping. Next was the virtual reality "Shakespeariance", which was rather interesting, kinda a cliffs notes version of Shakespeare. Wasn't quite what my mom was wanting, but we were both too tired to stay for a full Shakespeare play, and we both wanted a comedy but none were playing. We were actually between plays for one theater and in London, so no Shakespeare this trip. Dinner was at the old in Garrick's, with a traditional roast and yorkshire pudding (which isn't *pudding* as Americans think of pudding). Drove back to our B&B via Chipping Campden then back to the B&B to finish up our laundry.

___Mon, May 8, Day 10: Burford, Bibury, and Cirencester___

Today was the first day we encountered rain. To the locals, it was heavy. To us, it was a very nice light gentle rain. But, rain meant no Hidcote Manor Gardens. There was enough to do in the Cotswolds, we had no trouble finding an alternative plan, and our B&B host was glad to assist. So first stop was to Burford for SHOPPING. My mom had been wanting to do antiques shopping the whole trip, and this was her first good chance. So we spent the morning there. Next up was Bibury, which became my favorite of the Cotswold towns. So much charm! From the Bibury Coach Resort and grounds (with baby ducks!!), to the town streets, to Arlington Row. Oh, and we encountered the film crew getting ready for filming on the movie Stardust with Michelle Pfeifer! We didn't get to see any famous actors, they hadn't arrived yet, but we did get to see them setting up! Next was a run into Cirencester where we wanted to go to the Corindum Museum. We got a nice long tour of the city just trying to FIND said museum. I think it took us 30 minutes to find the thing (though in the meantime we did drive past the also-poorly-marked Roman amphitheater). And when we did finally find the place, the lady almost wouldn't let us in because there wasn't enough time to tour properly. Grrrr. We had nearly an hour! And the main thing we wanted to see were the mosaics. She finally did let us in with the caveat that we wouldn't be able to see everything, and it was worth the entry. The displays were fantastic, the mosaics beautiful. We ended up closing the museum down, and started a hunt for food. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anything there in town that we were in the mood for, so decided to try the Italian place advertised near our B&B. On the way back, I was tired enough and hungry enough that I took the wrong turn -- headed toward Burford instead of Stow which would have gotten us there, but at a much longer drive. So we took a turn down the country road to Farmington (since I knew that would get us back to the road we intended to be on) and ended up enjoying an absolutely stunning drive through the Cotswold countryside. Ended up taking us an hour to get back to where we'd intended to be just because we kept stopping for pictures. The italian restaurant was closed, but we ate at the Merrymouth Inn near the B&B and had *fantastic* service and *fantastic* food.

___Tues, May 9, Day 11: Chedworth Roman Villa, Priknash Abbey, Gloucester, and Cardiff___

Today was the first of our real journey days as we checked out from our B&B (wishing we could take it with us) and started out for Cardiff. First stop was at the Chedworth Roman Villa, the best preserved of the Roman Villas in Britain (or so we're told). Quite a hunt to find, but worth the stop, even though it meant missing Thornbury Castle. So instead we followed the road to Tetbury for a quick look around. Lunch was at the Snooty Fox where the food was okay but the service very slow. Can't blame the girl too much, though, as it was her first day. While eating, we picked up a brochure for the Orpheus Pavement, a reconstruction of a HUGE Roman mosaic pavement at an abbey on our way to Gloucester and since I've become very fascinated by Roman mosaics, we decided to stop. Quite a fascinating piece of work, too. Quite a piece of work, even if it is "just" a reconstruction. Next was a rush into Gloucester, where we got to the Cathedral just barely in time to get in, but just as they closed the doors for the cloisters which is where Harry Potter was filmed and the main reason to see the Cathedral. Sigh. But it was still an amazing building, and Gloucester was a nice city anyway. The way out was a lot easier to find than the way in, and we drove down to Cardiff from there. I was so glad I had picked up a detailed city map back in Oxford as we needed it and still had to call for directions. LOL! Cardiff reminded us quite a bit of Montreal, but I'm afraid all the bars on the windows and the signs everywhere warning of crime made us a little nervous. I'd visit Cardiff again, but not a city I'd want to live in because of that. Dinner was at a place called the "Black Pig" once translated, and unfortunately I didn't write down the name in Welsh!! The food was great, though. Then found our B&B and checked in for the night.

___Wed, May 10, Day 12: Cardiff Castle and the drive to Snowdonia___

This morning we hit Cardiff Castle (after a little rest and breakfast and packing up and checking out). The walk from our B&B was about 15 minutes and past the wall with all these neat carved animals jumping over it. We took the tour of the castle (nice tour, neat castle) then had lunch in the tearoom downstairs. 45 minute wait for lunch, but at least the food was good. We still don't know what was going on in the kitchen to take that long. Then we spent a while shopping and got to see the worlds largest hand-carved Welsh Love Spoon. (yes, I know, I know... the things we tourists will see. LOL!). Next we started out of town.... the wrong way. D'Oh! And the thing that stunned me was the people we tried asking for help from couldn't read a map of their own city and didn't even know the name of the street right outside! Ugh! So much for asking directions. We did finally get straightened out thanks to that city map and finally got out of town. It was then a 4+ hour drive up to Snowdonia after stopping at the Tesco-extra (similar to our Super-Walmart) for supplies, gas, and dinner. The drive was fascinating in areas, beautiful in others, and enjoyable all the way around. When we arrived in Betws-y-coed (pronounced "betsy co-ed", means "church in the wood" as near as we could translate), we again had to call for directions because we passed the sign *twice*.

__Thurs, May 11, Day 13: Resting and shopping__

Considering we woke up this morning to my mom's camera failing to recognize her memory card, then her portable hair drier literally going up in smoke, and me being utterly exhausted... today became our full resting day instead of Saturday. So all we did was sleep, read, enjoy the view, and run into Betws-y-coed for lunch.

___Fri, May 12, Day 14: Bodnant Gardens and Conwy___

After giving my mom's camera a good throttle, we got it to work again (phew!) which was good for today as we both ran out of memory today. Today's first stop was the little village of Llanrwst and the Tu Hwnt I'r Bont tea room. (It's pronounced pretty much just as it's spelled, with the w like an e/u) We'd seen pictures of this tea room before leaving and my mom fell in love, so she was so happy when I was able to find it (not an easy task, let me tell you. LOL! Identifying that "cute ivy-covered tea room" in Britain is tricky.) Next up was the absolutely gorgeous Bodnant Gardens, which were in full bloom with their azaleas and rhododendrons, a definite highlight of the trip. Lunch was at the tea room there at the gardens followed by a bit of shopping, then we hit the road once more to get up to Conwy Castle. King Edward built it to intimidate, and even today, it still succeeds. But a very neat castle, nonetheless. And the walls around the town are very well preserved. Thumbs up from us! Once again we grabbed dinner at the Tesco (it's cheap and quick) then headed back to a beautiful sunset.

___Sat, May 13, Day 15: Fairy Glen, Swallow Falls, and Caernarfon Castle__

This morning, we decided to do a little local outdoor exploring despite the light rain outside, so we got directions to the Fairy Glen. I can definitely see why the Fairy Glen got its name. It was very easy to imagine little fairies and the faery folk scattered around in that forest. There was a mystical feel to the air (call it power of suggestion if you will. LOL!). I thought it was worth the walk down into the glen, but I had the right shoes on and a short raincoat. My mom was wearing improper shoes and a long raincoat so for her, it wasn't worth it. Oops. But Swallow Falls on the other side of town made up for it. They were fantastic. Our drive from there took us to Caernarfon by way of Beddgelert (pronounced "beth-guh-lert, from what we could hear) which was a scenic route with narrow roads much of the way (which made for good practice for Scotland, or so I thought. Turned out to be some of the narrowest roads we hit the entire trip). We got into Caernarfon with no problem and just in time to get into the castle before the last entry. It was cold, it was dreary, and Caernarfon I'm afraid was a stereotypical "port town", which seriously stole from the glamour of the castle. Kinda hard to enjoy the castle when you feel unsafe walking from the parking lot *to* the castle. And Macbeth was even playing tonight in the Castle courtyard, but it was cold enough and my mom was fighting an ear ache and a cough, so we decided to skip it, though both of us would have enjoyed it. So we took the faster route back to Betws-y-Coed and met the local police. Yes, I got pulled over. *blush* Not for driving too fast, not for driving on the wrong side of the road, but for driving "apprehensively". The cop (who was very cute, by the way. *grin*) grinned when I asked if I'd missed the mark from 40 to 30. He said no, "you were driving a bit apprehensively, but now I see why. Everything okay? You okay with driving on this side of the road?" and so on. After just a few minutes and some genuine concern on his part, and ensuring him that as long as I took it slow (which honestly I was doing more because he was *behind* me than anything else! LOL!), he let us go on with well wishes. What's a trip to a foreign country without meeting the local officers? Hehe. Dinner was at a hotel there in Betws-y-coed, Gwyndr or something like that, which was good, then back to the room to pack since tomorrow would be a long day.

__Sun, May 14, Day 16: Driving from Snowdonia to Loch Lomond, by way of Chester and the Lake District__

This morning we were up bright and early since it would be a very long day. After breakfast, we packed up and headed out of town, stopping briefly in Betws-y-Coed to see the suspension bridge and the 13th (or is it 12th?) Century Church. Then we took the fastest route to Chester where we ended up in the parking garage for the Grosvenor Mall. So we got to walk through the Grosvenor Hotel (fancy!) and right directly onto "The Rows". Very cute blending of old architecture, and lots and lots of shopping. Lunch was at Bella Italy for some great Italian food, then we hit the road again. We hurried to Windermere for dinner, and got there just as they were closing the Beatrix Potter museum. Sadly, if my mom had known that was there (and if I'd known it was going to be so cute and she wanted to see it so badly), we would have left a little earlier and spent less time in Chester. Oops. Well, we got to see the entrance, anyway. And we got to see the Lake District in the rain. Next visit, we'll have to spend more time there. We were surprised to see so many churches for sale, though. Picked up the M6 again and continued on in to Loch Lomond, getting lost briefly in Glasgow. Well, not too lost, just confused I guess you'd say. By the time we finally found our B&B in Balloch, it was 11pm. Thankfully, I'd had us re-pack so we could get by with only one small bag each for the next couple of nights.

___Mon, May 15, Day 17: Loch Lomond and Glencoe___

This morning we were up early for an early breakfast (they like early breakfasts in the UK. Ugh. LOL!) then packed up and headed into town. We ended up spinning our wheels figuratively in Balloch so that we didn't get out of there until about 2:30, even though it wasn't the cutest of towns and we can't really say what took us so long. We did go shopping at the factory outlet and picked up our second bag (a *big* one, too), and we had lunch, but that shouldn't have taken so long. LOL! Anyway, we did finally get on the road and were able to drive up along the shores of Loch Lomond and through Luss and Tarbet. We stopped at a waterfall just north of Loch Lomond, but I'll have to look up the name, and otherwise drove straight up to our B&B in Onich (just south of Ft William on the shores of Loch Linnhe). The drive through Glencoe wasn't "beautiful" by our definition, but it was absolutely *fascinating* and totally otherworldly. Definitely worth seeing! And along the way, in the middle of this barren and other-worldly land, we almost hit a herd of deer! I think they were red deer, and they blended in so well with the surroundings that we almost didn't see them. We had to turn around and go back to get a better look at them! We did consider the area around Loch Linnhe and Loch Leven to be gorgeous, and wished we'd spent another night up there.


___Tues, May 16, Day 18: Loch Leven, Loch Ness, and Castle Stuart___

Today we grudgingly left our B&B, it was so beautiful and peaceful that we wished we had more time to stay. We did, however, try both the porridge and haggis they had on the menu for breakfast. The porridge was...eh. The haggis, though, was quite good. Especially when eaten with the fried tomato. Haggis would make an excellent stuffing for stuffed tomatoes! It was a little spicier than I could handle for a full meal, but I'd order it again without hesitation for a side. After breakfast, we backtracked and, thanks to the tips from our wonderful host and hostess, took the long way back to Loch Leven. We wanted to drive around that beautiful Loch despite the time delay it would give us, and they let us know which way to go so that we could have all the good pull offs on the correct side of the road. The view was beautiful up and down the Loch, and the mist only made it more mysterious. We did wonder if maybe it was even the Loch that Harry flies Buckbeak the Hippogriff down, but apparently that was Loch Shiel? Anyway, we loved it, and the many waterfalls, including Grey Mare Falls in Kinlochleven (even though we couldn't see it too well without a good looong hike). Lunch was back at the Onich hotel, just down the road from our B&B, then we drove straight through up to Loch Ness with one stop at what we think was the Glengarry Hotel (we'll have to check on the map again to be certain) and the ruins of their castle. We got to Loch Ness at 4:30, just in time for me to rush into Urquart Castle before they closed. My mom was tired and decided to just wait in the car and watch for Nessie, but she never showed up (Nessie, that is). Along the way to Loch Ness, we did get so see some of the Highland Cows (Coos?) that are literally prehistoric and absolutely adorable. After stopping at Urquart and seeing that the Nessie Experience was closed, we continued on in to our B&B for the night, Castle Stuart. This was our splurge for the trip and well worth the cost. A real manor-house sized castle that has been restored and turned into a warm and welcoming B&B, with hidden passageways and secret doors and spiral stairs and private grounds. We had to be buzzed in to enter the place and it was so neat to experience. And Caroline, our hostess, was a wonderful hostess. Except she wouldn't tell us exactly where dinner was -- instead, she encouraged us to explore the castle (including any rooms where the doors are open or not marked "private", so that included the other guest rooms) and challenged us to find the dining room before dinner. Yes, you had to go through secret doors to find it. :D And yes, I found it. Dinner was a very cool experience, being piped in with us and one other family of 3 as the only guests in the Great Hall. Talk about feeling like royalty! We even had our own tower. With only 2 families there, we had one tower, and they had the other, and luckily we hit it off wonderfully with the other family. It was a fantastic stay and another highlight of the trip.

___Wed, May 17, Day 19: Castle Stuart, Clava Cairns, Cawdor Castle, and the Cairngorms___

We got up and moving just barely in time for breakfast since I wasn't able to sleep well. (Had nothing to do with the room, the castle, or the supposed "ghost" of the castle, just nearly 3 weeks of vacation catching up to me) But we made it. After breakfast we got some more pictures and explored the remainder of the castle, then checked out (wah!!) and explored the castle grounds and got our pictures in front of the castle. Finally, we headed out about 11:30. Our first stop was the Clava Cairns, which were not easy to find. They're a series of ancient burial and ceremonial mounds and standing stones that are very well preserved and I'd seen pictures of them online so knew this was where I wanted to visit. And it was worth the hunt. Then it was off to Cawdor Castle, which we'd been told to be sure to visit and with good reason. It was another fantastic castle, lived in for the past 25 generations and a continued residence today. Lunch was some fantastic soup and sandwiches (and quiche for my mom) in the restaurant and we spent the rest of the afternoon touring the castle, the grounds, and shopping! Woohoo! On the way out, we were told to watch for the "prehistoric sheep" that are apparently contemporaries of the Highland Cow. They were also very fascinating, black with 2 sets of horns. After that, we called our hotel in Pithlochry to reconfirm our reservation and let them know we would be late, and I'm glad we did. They had us, and no problem being late, but I had no idea *how* late we were going to be! What I expected to be a 2-3 hour drive ended up taking 6! Yikes!! Part of that was poor memory on my part, as the person who recommended the route *did* say it would take most of the day. Part of that was the weather as well, as it was raining almost from the time we left Cawdor Castle until we got to Pithlochry. And the only stop we made was to get dinner in Grantown-On-Spey (sp?). It got dark well before we reached Pithlochry, and we were concerned that we'd missed the turn because the roads were so small for a "main" road and so little traffic down them. But we kept passing the proper landmarks from our map, and I *had* read one lady's report with pictures telling how narrow even the main roads could be, so we pushed on and had been going the right way. Oh, and we discovered why they had frog crossing street signs. Yes, *frog* crossing. When the rain hit, the road looked like hail was dropping with how many frogs were hopping across the road. Ack! We checked in at our hotel just after 11, and the guy who checked us in was highly amused. By the way, between the rain and the length of the drive and then the darkness, the scenic route wasn't worth it. LOL!

___Thurs, May 18, Day 20: Blair Castle___

Ahh, the day that must always hit on every vacation, and this was no exception. It started out fine, we just slept through breakfast (our host was expecting it with our late night and rough drive). On our itinerary today were Blair Castle and Stirling Castle. We found Blair Castle with no problem and got our tickets. Got great pictures outside but, as with most castles, no pictures inside. Sigh. Grabbed lunch in the cafeteria, but I couldn't eat mine. Nothing wrong with the food, it was me. Then we hit the shop for a few minutes in order to kill time until the Highland Piper was going to perform at 1, which we did get to see. She was great (I didn't even know women *played* the bagpipes), and the peacock who worked the crowd for food was very cute as well. Then we joined the tour, which was self guiding. I'm glad they had chairs all over you could sit in, as I wasn't feeling well. And by half-way through the tour, when we hit the restrooms (thankfully *inside* the castle and on the tour for a change), I decided I needed to speak to first aid and see if they had a place I could lie down. Suffice it to say it was a good thing I did, and we cut the remainder of our day short after about an hour at first aid. I even almost let my mom drive (which considering she was always saying she was glad I was driving because she would have gotten off on the wrong side of the street and she didn't understand roundabouts at all gives you an idea of how I was feeling), but by the time we left I was more concerned about getting carsick as a passenger than I was about anything while I drove. So, we went straight to Edinburgh. And got a nice tour of Edinburgh while I tried to figure out where our B&B was. And this time, I wasn't feeling well enough to pull over (not that there was anywhere *to* pull over anyway) and call for directions. So round and round the New Town (and bits of Old) we went until finally we found the street mentioned on our instructions to our B&B, and amazingly we found parking right outside. And it was only pay parking for 1 more hour, then we could just *leave* it there until the next morning. So we checked in, had our very kind host help us carry the bags in, and then we just *crashed*.

___Fri, May 19, Day 21: Edinburgh___

And it has come, the last day of our vacation. We took it easy this morning other than rushing to get money into the parking meter so we wouldn't get a ticket but could leave the car there for a few more hours. Got breakfast and then rested a bit, then finally when I felt up to it we headed out to find the B&B's tiny (and I do mean tiny) parking lot. Edinburgh is *not* an easy town to get around in. LOL! We did finally find it but it took me 10 minutes to get the car parked in that tiny lot in such a way that the other family coming in this afternoon with another car would be able to get into the lot as well. I'm just glad my mom was able to help direct me on how to park the thing in such tight quarters. LOL! Then it was off to a tour of the city. We started off by catching the hop-on hop-off bus, but weren't as happy with the tour in Edinburgh as we were in other towns, at no fault of the tour's. Turns out there'd been a rock slide from the Castle earlier in the week, so much of the route around the Castle that we really wanted to see was closed. Ugh. But we did get to see the outside of Holyrood Palace (closed because the Prince was in town), and part of the Royal Mile, and some of the New Town that we'd seen the night before. Lunch was at a cafe we think was called the Elephant Cafe, where apparently J.K. Rowlings would go as a student in Edinburgh while she worked on the first Harry Potter novels. Finding this place was totally by accident, but the food was great and *cheap* compared to everywhere else we ate (and we were trying to eat cheap, too). From lunch, we walked up the Royal Mile to the Castle via some shopping. I found the Skein Dubh that I wanted (a small Scottish dagger that goes in the stocking and is ceremonial), but it was 3x what I wanted to pay so I decided to skip that souvenir. Toured the castle and especially enjoyed the exhibit on the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. That was quite well done. And the views from the Castle were great. After the Castle, we hurried down to the Museum of Scotland, where we had one hour to catch the highlights. Again, not long enough, but enough to see the main things we wanted to see, and we got to encounter a very, very sweet Docent who was obviously very proud of his history. We walked back to the car via Subway (the only thing I could eat) then back to the B&B to finish packing for the last night in the UK.

___Sat, May 20, Day 22: Departure___

Nothing special today, other than discovering that there are no such things as porters at the Edinburgh airport, and that the security at the Edinburgh airport are allowed to have a sense of humor. We got a great one who not only asked our questions, but helped us check the luggage, then asked us the final questions as we boarded. A very nice goodbye from a wonderful trip. One I'm sure we'll repeat (hitting things we missed this trip, and a slightly different route next time) sometime in the not-to-distant future.
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Old 05-22-2006, 06:18 PM   #2
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omg, what an amazing trip!!! I've loved reading your report. I may have some questions for you as we are in the midst of planning our first trip (although it will be much shorter than yours!).

Thank you for sharing!
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Old 05-22-2006, 06:23 PM   #3
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Ask away, mtemm!! I'll be happy to help where I can
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Old 05-22-2006, 06:41 PM   #4
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Glad you enjoyed your trip and our lovely countries - hope to see you again soon
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Old 05-22-2006, 07:42 PM   #5
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What a wonderful vacation, you really packed a lot in. Im contemplating stopping off in either England or Scotland for three days on my way back from Norway this summer. Can you give me a general idea on the cost of hiring a private guide, or a website? Did you book your vacation yourself or through a travel agent? Do you have any pictures to share; I would love to see a picture of the frogs crossing the road?

Thanks
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Old 05-22-2006, 08:20 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chicago Girl
What a wonderful vacation, you really packed a lot in. Im contemplating stopping off in either England or Scotland for three days on my way back from Norway this summer. Can you give me a general idea on the cost of hiring a private guide, or a website? Did you book your vacation yourself or through a travel agent? Do you have any pictures to share; I would love to see a picture of the frogs crossing the road?

Thanks
The cost on the guide really depends on where you want to go and how far the guide has to travel. We used Celtic Horizons and the cost (made higher due to picking us up in London) was 290 for the day and a half, including shuttle service for dinner. And he was well worth it. When I inquired about other guides in Scotland, I want to say they averaged about 130 a day.

My mom and I booked the travel entirely ourselves, but we also enjoy trip planning. If you don't like that hassle, by all means go with a travel agent. I made a lot of use of tripadvisor.com.

Pics I have (just not processed yet -- 60 cds worth, and I can't share them all! LOL!), but it was too dark and we were running too late to get any pics of the frogs crossing the road, sorry! LOL!
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Old 05-22-2006, 08:55 PM   #7
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Wow!!! We are planning a UK trip next summer. I am going to print out your report and put it away for future reference!!!
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Old 05-22-2006, 10:13 PM   #8
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Help yourself, and you know where to reach me if you have interest in further details. LOL!
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Old 05-22-2006, 10:52 PM   #9
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Wonderful report, thanks for posting it!

Oh and also you said: man I wish we could find those chocolate chip Wheetabix here in the states!! - you might check out this link (LOTS of Brits in my area, and this place in PA advertises here) - maybe the same thing you're looking for?

https://www.shop.britishgoodsonline....?productId=127
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Old 05-22-2006, 11:15 PM   #10
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I am so happy you had a great time in England! I loved it there. The whole country is amazing.

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___Sat, May 6, Day 8: Stow-on-the-Wold and Warwick Castle___
Right in front of Warwick Castle is were I felt our baby (DD3) move for the first time..I knew then the child would have delusions of granduer and I was right, Miss Ava is also a princess through and through. I felt her move at about 16 weeks which is early so she must have like being near the castle
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Old 05-22-2006, 11:32 PM   #11
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Your trip sounds like it was almost perfect! I've often playfully planned out trips to Great Britain and you hit many of the places I'd like to see.

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Dinner was the Kingmaker's Feast set in the 1400s, and I went in costume.
I'm curious about this. Did you bring a costume or pick one up there? What did your costume look like?

I'm also curious about Westminster Abbey. Did you have time to see Poet's Corner and some of the other sights?
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Old 05-23-2006, 08:04 AM   #12
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Wow--what a fantastic trip! We're always limited on our trips because DH's family is there and we have to get in a lot of visiting since we don't see each other that often. I loved Hampton Court--it's near my BIL's home so our darling SIL dropped us off there one morning when she was on her way to go grocery shopping. I can't imagine driving past a castle to go to the grocery.

And you must have a lot of fortitude to jump right into touring practically right off the plane! I can't sleep on an airplane and went immediately from the airport to take a nap. I'm so glad you had a great time!
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Old 05-23-2006, 09:49 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seahunt
Wonderful report, thanks for posting it!

Oh and also you said: man I wish we could find those chocolate chip Wheetabix here in the states!! - you might check out this link (LOTS of Brits in my area, and this place in PA advertises here) - maybe the same thing you're looking for?

https://www.shop.britishgoodsonline....?productId=127
Oooooh!! Yes, yes!! That's them!! Goodie!!!! Thanks Seahunt!!
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Old 05-23-2006, 09:56 AM   #14
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Ava, how sweet!!


Planogirl:
Quote:
I'm curious about this. Did you bring a costume or pick one up there? What did your costume look like?
I brought a costume that I picked up at a costume store here in the states before leaving. It's not too fancy, but I enjoyed it. When you make your reservations, they give you a link to a local costume shop who will deliver to your hotel if you're staying there in Warwick so you can have authentic costumes that looked great, but we were staying an hour away. I'll share a picture when I can.

Quote:
I'm also curious about Westminster Abbey. Did you have time to see Poet's Corner and some of the other sights?
Yup, sure did!! We were able to do the entire walk around the Abbey that is on the self-guided tour, though I suspect there were some areas (catacombs or something) that you could only get to on a guided tour. I really wish pictures were allowed inside, but they weren't.

Amy -- we were too excited to go to sleep right away, and I had gotten a good 2-3 hours nap on the plane. I learned going to Switzerland that if I take earplugs and an eye mask and a neck pillow, I can sleep reasonably well considering. But we were sure ready for that nap when we finished the bus tour!
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Old 05-23-2006, 12:02 PM   #15
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One of the things I tell everyone about London is about seeing Big Ben. I say the same thing that you did... there is no picture that can do it justice.

I also loved the Roman baths. This Old House toured it once when they were doing a house in London. Every time it is rerun, I make my DH watch it. I SO want to take him and the kids there so they can see what I did, ahem, 20 years ago.

Your trip sounds like it was wonderful! I'm glad you had a great time!
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